September was an awful– and tearful– month. Last week, I put Saya, my pigeon of 2 years, to sleep. The vet gave her an injection and she was gone. Four weeks earlier, Stafani, my dog of 16 years, was also given an injection. Saya is buried in the backyard with a stone marker. Stafani’s ashes are in the house.
Their last breath did not happen “naturally.” In both cases, I had the vet give my fellow sentient beings an injection. In both cases, the heart was forcibly stopped. It was a gut wrenching decision. Their minds were good. They were still conscious and aware of everything going on around them. To those of us who believe in the sacredness of consciousness, and that every living sentient being deserves the right to live as long as they can, the question of when a life should end is a torturous one to answer. So was this the right time? When is the right time?
It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’m sure they wanted to continue living (their eyes said, “Can you save me?”) Because they were my dependents, whether they live or die was entirely in my hands. At the point that Saya was given the injection, she probably had maybe another week left. Perhaps even two. And at the point that Stafani was given the injection, she maybe had another month or maybe two or maybe three. They both had more days to live where their minds would have been fully functioning and unencumbered (as much as it can notwithstanding the pain in the body).
I wanted so much for them to live longer. They were my special friends, still interacting with me. Saya’s gentle eyes would still look at me, and I would see the desire to live in them. In her healthier days, she would fly to and land on me, and eat from my hand. Stafani was still genuinely loving me and I would love her back in only the way a dog and her owner could. But I knew the trajectory ahead.
Only two days before the vet visit, Saya was snatched in mid-flight by a hawk. But she struggled and escaped, and managed to make it home. I wanted her to live– to reward her tenacity. But her breast had been torn open and the huge hole beyond that showed that the crop (the organ where their food is digested) had been cut wide open. A $1000+ surgery would sew up her crop and breast, but the stress of surgery might made a guarantee of recovery quite unlikely. And there would be intravenous feeding since there is no way she would be eating normally through all this. Yes, sometimes financial decisions play into an early termination; I couldn’t afford it. If I did nothing, she would have died soon. But she would have had to suffer and slowly fade into oblivion as nature takes its course. Early termination would alleviate her from the suffering. I knew that the end goal of either early termination or leaving it to nature would be the same. I told the vet to give her the injection– after a couple of hours of sitting alone in the vet’s office with Saya.
With Stafani, she had two large lipomas (cancerous growths) on her left side, one almost the size of a basketball. She also had a number of small ones all over her body. She was already 16, way past old age for large dogs. Her back legs, having hip dysplasia, were no longer strong enough to lift her 60 pounds– I would have to lift her up when she needed bathroom use. She would use the legs to move about 20 feet, but would then be too tired to do anything more. At one point, she went into an epileptic-type seizure where I could see that her mind was totally alert, but totally confused as to what was happening to her body. This seizure would get more often as the days passed. A few days later, with Stafani’s head on my lap, the vet gave her the injection.
It wasn’t “assisted suicide” since these created beings did not ask for it. But it was termination before “their time.” As the caretaker, I made the decision. The agonizing aspect of this is that I knew they could have lived longer. But live longer at what cost? Was it really living?
Nature didn’t take their lives. I did. And I will live with that decision for the rest of my life.